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Where did it go wrong for AVB at Chelsea?

So another Premier League manager has bitten the dust. Not Steve Kean, the man who has been berated by the fans since day one, so much so that at one point his team were booed for scoring a goal. Not Owen Coyle, who has carefully steered his Bolton team into the bottom three, and sold perhaps their best defender. Even Alex McLeish, who arrived at Aston Villa from bitter rivals Birmingham, and has hardly set the Midlands alight, remains in his post. In fact, as far as the bottom half of the table is concerned, the only person it appears won’t be sacked any time soon is Roberto Martinez. A Wigan legend, who is building a complete club there, expanding the training facilities, improving the youth set up, and setting the club up for a long and successful future. It is clearly a vision shared by himself and the Chairman Dave Whelan, who is perhaps accepting that a year or two in the Championship may be part and parcel of the longer vision.

Funnily enough, it is a long term vision that was shared by a Chairman who’s team spend the majority of their time at the other end of the table. 6 managers have come and gone since the Mourinho era, not one of them winning the Champions League, the trophy that even amoeba in Saturn know Roman Abramovich will not stop hunting for. The problem is, that every one of those managers has continued to attempt this feat with more or less the same team. Certainly the spine of the team has changed very little since ‘The Special One’ arrived in West London. It is perhaps the spine of the team that have caused the downfall of the team, particularly over the past few months.

Fed up of the constant changes and lack of European success, Abramovich decided it was time for another change, and brought in Andre Villas-Boas. AVB (as he became affectionately known), had never played professional football himself, but in his one season at Porto had won four trophies, including a European trophy. It was this immediate success, combined with his age (only 34, and notably younger than some of the Chelsea ‘old-guard), that placed him on Abramovich’s radar, so much so that Roman paid out approximately £13 million, mere pocket money to a man of such wealth, to take him from Porto and place him in charge of his toys at Stamford Bridge.

Rumour had it that the brief was different when AVB arrived. Of course, it was clear to anyone with half an interest in football, that Roman wanted the Champions League. However, the youth and inexperience of the manager, whilst questioned by many, was perhaps an indication that like Whelan, Abramovich had realised he couldn’t neccesarily buy a trophy as coverted as the Champions League. It takes time, expansion, a strong club that develop as a unit. There was a feeling amongst the football world that AVB would be given more time than his speedily slaughtered predecessors. He would be given chance to build his squad, get rid of the aging players, and maybe it would take a season or two, but it would then give him a shot at the Champions League with his own squad. After all, that’s what Mourinho had done, and noone since then had ever had the chance to develop their own squad.

As it happened, Chelsea weren’t even out of the Champions League when Abramovich pulled the plug on their 9 month relationship, amid controversy and anger amongst critics and football fans alike. Despite a first leg loss to Napoli, Chelsea still had the chance to turn it around. They were still (albeit with the inconvenience of a replay) in the FA cup, and were sitting in 5th spot in the Premier League, and looking at a scrap with Arsenal for the final Champions League spot as the season entered ‘squeaky-bum time’. Was it premature? Many seemed to think so. Was it the obsession of an ignorant Chairman who refused to accept the fact that the Champions League takes time? It appears to be the case. Or finally, was it the result of a group of over-powerful players that spoke out about their manager, and forced him out of the club?

Abramovich is clearly a man possessed. A man with such inordinate wealth that he believes he can have whatever he wants. Over the past few seasons as Chairman of Chelsea he has certainly had more than most of us could ever dream of having in our life. He has won Premier League titles, Carling Cups and FA Cups, presiding over one of Chelsea’s most successful eras of all time. But the Champions League continues to elude him, and something suggests he won’t stop chopping and changing until he has it. And why should he? He is a man who can throw £50 million at a manager, hiring and firing him within a year when he feels things don’t work out. If he is supplying the money, he is at liberty to decide who is steering his ship. Having said this, he hired AVB with very little experience, knowing that it was a risk. Sure Villas-Boas had a proven record in the Portuguese League, but it was a far cry from the wealth of Chelsea, and the quality of the Premier League. He hired him on a three-year contract, surely with the thought that a contract with time on its side would allow him to build a squad. Unfortunately, his obsessions caught up with him, and despite the fact that only a miracle will keep them in the Champions League, AVB has been added to the growing list of world class managers that aren’t Abramovich class!

The second debate is over player-power at the club. General consensus seems to be that Terry, Lampard and Drogba, the spine of the team over the past few seasons, are over their peak. It certainly appears to be showing in their play (Lampard’s recent improvements aside). It takes a bold manager to drop them, but that was what was needed. Villas-Boas needed to come in, drop the players that were surplus to requirements, whatever their status at the club, and bring in new talent to replace them. Cahill for Terry seems fairly like-for-like, but the midfield replacements appear, given time, to be adequate in shaping a fairly new and dynamic Chelsea. Similarly, the emergence of Sturridge, and the signing of Lukaku look like Boas had started to reshape the attacking options for the Blues, allowing them to finally clear out the older players. The players weren’t happy though, voiced this, said that they felt undermined. It appears that they believed it was more their club than AVB’s. I agree that anyone should be able to voice their opinion about their manager, but at their own risk. They shouldn’t be able to do it knowing they will be okay, and that what they say can influence the career of their own manager. Years of overpayment and managerial changes have gone to the heads of these players, and they now appear to rule the club in a way that has poisoned the position of manager, and will make it hard for Abramovich to find anyone who wants the job.

Finally, we can’t ignore the fact that AVB brought a fair amount of his demise on himself. He invited the players to speak up about their relationship, and when they did he then dropped him. He admitted that he was struggling to get to grips with the Premier League. It appeared that he gave no confidence to the players, one minute bold in dropping players like Lampard, next minute calling him back up. His tactics were often visibly wrong, football fans across the country were in agreement here.

All in all, Chelsea Football Club is the sad story of one man’s plaything. A man, with more money than we can imagine, so blinded by his desperation to win the Champions League, that he is forgetting that he is controlling peoples lives. This is their career. I just hope, for AVB’s sake, that his Chelsea nightmare doesn’t affect the rest of what I’m sure could be a long a successful career.

 

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